Five Curious Questions Tomorrow's Oscar Nominations Will Answer
Tomorrow morning, the Oscar nominations will appear. As always, they're not madly difficult to predict, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few nagging matters that they'll clear up.
1. What happens in the second year of the expanded Best Picture field? As I see it, there are eight sure things for Best Picture nominations: Black Swan, The Social Network, The King's Speech, The Fighter, Toy Story 3, The Kids Are All Right, Inception, and True Grit. My guess (and it's very consistent, I freely admit, with everybody else's guessing) is that the last two spots will go to two of four bubble contenders, in order of likelihood: Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, The Town, and Blue Valentine. That's going to be a list with a little less of a populist bent than the ten-film list of last year, which made room for the beloved but critically ho-hummed The Blind Side as well as the visually dazzling but listlessly scripted blockbuster Avatar.
What's interesting about this potential ten-film list — this twelve-film list, really — is that they're all pretty darn good movies. It's not a bad argument for the ten-picture field, and it's probably a better argument than last year was. The closest thing on this list to a film that's probably been praised and loved far beyond its abilities is Black Swan, which is so campy and ambitiously weird that it at least isn't lazy, even though it's one of those that feels like it might not age well. There's not a real obvious lightweight on this list, and that's a good thing.
2. Where is Hailee Steinfeld? The "For Your Consideration" nomination campaign for True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld has suggested her in the category of Best Supporting Actress. This is totally absurd, based on her actual role in the film. She is in nearly every scene, and her character is the central figure and narrator. The only reason it's being done this way is that she's young (she was 13 when the film was shot; she's 14 now) and she's new, and this is to give her a better chance.
But voters have the ability to place an actor in whatever category they deem appropriate. The voters could choose to give Steinfeld a Best Actress nomination. The concern, of course, is that some could vote for her in Best Actress and some in Best Supporting Actress, thus splitting her votes and keeping her from being nominated at all, which would be a real shame. (UPDATE: Roger Ebert says that if you get votes in two categories, you get nominated where you have the most votes. I think that still means you could have your votes split and win a nomination in neither category. Of course, by now — Wednesday — we know that Steinfeld was nominated in the supporting category.)
3. Does 127 Hours get nominations other than for James Franco? It would be a surprise to see James Franco miss a Best Actor nomination for the nearly one-man show that is 127 Hours. But the film is a director's movie as much as an actor's movie — director Danny Boyle had to figure out how to prevent boredom and stagnation in a story that basically involves one guy stuck in one spot. It seems to be the consensus that it's on the bubble for a Best Picture nomination in the expanded ten-picture field. But Boyle is likely to be kept out of Best Director by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), Christopher Nolan (Inception), David Fincher (The Social Network), and, I'd say, either the Coen Brothers (True Grit) or David O. Russell (The Fighter). They're all talented directors, but Boyle would also be deserving.
4. What happens to Blue Valentine? Perhaps the simplest and greatest pure emotional wallop of the year, Blue Valentine is a possibility, but something of a longshot, for a Best Picture nomination. It's a movie belonging almost entirely to the performances of two actors: Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, both of whom are being talked of as, again, possibilities but not strong possibilities for acting nominations, with her odds generally understood to be better than his. My guess is that the nomination possibilities for the film are (1) nothing in the major categories, or (2) just Williams, or (3) Williams, Gosling and Best Picture. (That last one is what I would give it, for what that's worth.) In other words, she's more likely than he is, but if and only if they both push their way into the acting categories (Gosling would have to get the fifth spot by winning a several-actor free-for-all to go up against nomination locks Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, James Franco, and Jesse Eisenberg), it could get the Best Picture nomination.
5. Does the documentary category go mainstream? One thing that's interesting about the documentary category is that the Academy releases its "short list" of fifteen films in November. So we already have a list of the fifteen from which the five Best Documentary Feature nominees will be chosen. You could come up with a field that would consist almost entirely of films with a reasonably high profile: Waiting For Superman (about public schools), Client 9 (about Eliot Spitzer), Exit Through The Gift Shop (about street artist Banksy), Restrepo (about the war), and Inside Job (about the economic crisis), perhaps. Or you could come up with a field full of films that far fewer Oscar viewers will have heard of. The biggest surprise about the short list might be the absences of a couple of other fairly well-publicized 2010 docs: the very good Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work, and the shaggy and sketchy but oddly compelling Catfish.
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